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Alaska's tall-tale gardens...for real.

Alaska's tall-tale gardens . . . for real

"Everything is bigger and more colorful in Alaska,' boasts one Anchorage gardener. "Even the cabbages.' Surveying the mammoth blue-green leaves that unfurl above a bed of low-growing annuals in Easter-egg colors, you might agree.

As this city celebrates its brief respite from winter, downtown flower beds-- from tabletop size to 1,000 square feet-- burst with plants artfully combined for color and form. The photographs at left capture some of last year's displays.

If you're in Anchorage this summer, consider a self-guided walking tour of downtown sights that will take you past most of the gardens (see map at bottom right). Displays are established by early to mid-July and usually continue to September. You may get planting ideas to try in your garden next year (you'll have to adjust planting dates to suit your own climate; much of what you'll see here was started indoors from seed between January and April for planting out June 1).

If you live in another of the West's cold-winter climates, June is the best time to try the planting schemes shown here. For maximum impact in small garden beds, combine contrasting flower colors. In larger beds, combine vegetables with annuals for textural interest (you can substitute clusters of Swiss chard for latermaturing cabbages).

In milder climates, wait until fall to set out cabbages and other cool-season plants for display next spring.

Keep in mind that certain peculiarities of this northern latitude influence how plants grow and look. Anchorage's gardening season is short (90 to 112 frostfree days) and cool (daytime highs average 65|). Last frost normally comes in late May, and first frost is as early as September. But summer days are long (20 hours), which stimulates unusually large growth in some plants. Flower colors also appear more intense than they do at lower latitudes.

Where to see downtown gardens

At the first stop listed below, pick up a free copy of 1986 Anchorage Visitors Guide, published by the Convention & Visitors Bureau; it describes points of interest along a downtown walking tour (3 to 4 hours, depending on how long you devote to each stop; it's outlined on our map). Allow enough time to browse through the newly expanded Anchorage Museum of History and Art (open 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 Sundays); it houses one of the state's finest collections of native art. And on a clear day, you'll want to savor the view from Captain Cook Monument (W. Third Avenue at L Street) of snow-capped Mount McKinley rising in the distance beyond Cook Inlet.

Five planting areas are on this route, a few minutes' walk from downtown hotels.

Visitor Information Center, southeast corner of W. Fourth Avenue and F Street (1 on the map); open daily 7:30 to 7. Unde the log cabin's eaves, large fuchsia baskets dangle pendulous blooms until frost. A small bed in front bursts with annuals-- including forget-me-not, Alaska's state flower.

Old City Hall (2). Giant-flowered dahlias and mixed annuals crowd six small beds. Hanging baskets of lobelia and marigolds brighten lampposts along Fourth Avenue.

Town Square (3). This is the largest plant display area downtown (and it's expanding); over 6,000 plants fill 18 beds.

Anchorage Museum of History and Art (4). Beds border its Sixth and Seventh Avenue and A Street sides. Look for colorful hanging baskets along A Street.

Delaney Park (5). Planting beds line C Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues.

Street plantings get started in the municipal greenhouse (each year, up to 50,000 plants and 200 varieties), open 8 to 3 daily at Russian Jack Springs Park, 5200 Debarr Avenue, about 3 miles east of downtown.

Photo: Giant cabbage ("O.S. Cross') sprawls among sweet alyssum, ageratum, yellow calceolaria, flowering cabbage, and statice in Town Square. In Alaska, this variety can reach 4 feet across, weigh up to 80 pounds at harvest. Bed behind holds scarlet geraniums, white snapdragons, gray dusty miller, white sweet alyssum

Photo: Rosy pink spikes of Foxy foxgloves add height to bed of dwarf red and pink nicotianas outside art museum. Basket holds lobelia and ivy geraniums

Photo: Whopper-size dahlias grow in bed outside Old City Hall. Pinching keeps these normally 4-foot floppers compact

Photo: Papery-petaled dwarf Bright Bikinis strawflowers combine handsomely with dwarf golden marigolds in narrow (2-foot) bed. Lobelia edges both sides

Photo: Foxgloves and low-growing annuals lap at signpost outside log cabin visitor center. Cabin's eaves shade giant fuchsia baskets

Photo: White numbers indicate downtown Anchorage gardens located on or near walking tour route (colored line)
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Anchorage, Alaska
Date:Jun 1, 1986
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